Photograph by Kelly Baldwin
In the Hood: Eric Victorino takes a break from music to turn author in his book 'Coma Therapy.'
Strata vocalist Eric Victorino immersed himself for a month to complete his first book, 'Coma Therapy'
By Sarah Quelland
THE SUN IS SHINING, but Eric Victorino is sitting in the shade at a table outside of Orchard Valley Coffee in Campbell. He has pulled the hood of his dark sweatshirt close to his shaven head. The white cords of his iPod peeking out work like a do-not-disturb sign. Pen in hand, Victorino is concentrating on words he is scribbling in a small notebook. Not until I tap lightly on the silvery metal table to announce my presence does he look up and greet me with a tired smile.
Most people know Victorino as the vocalist for Strata, a Campbell-based band signed to Wind-Up Records, but today, we're here to talk about his first book, Coma Therapy, a journal-style collection of memories and musings written in rough poetic format.
Taken as a whole, the book comes across raw and personal, brutal and bold, with elements of boyish humor, adolescent wickedness and rock-star charm. Themes of death, drug use, sex and violence are carried throughout its pages, and there is a recurring message: Follow your dreams. The characters are real and the stories are true, and one gets the sense that Victorino didn't take the consequences of such honesty into consideration.
Talking about it now, he wonders if he should have fictionalized some accounts more.
The book came out in January, though it seems much longer to Victorino, who has been immersed in the project since November.
He was going through something of a crisis, coping with his mother's cancer diagnosis and struggling to write lyrics for Strata's next record, when he started writing Coma Therapy.
The title refers to a medical procedure used in an attempt to cure various disorders by causing a patient to enter a comatose state. The concept fascinated Victorino, but it is not until today that he realizes writing this book was his own version of coma therapy.
"Everything was falling apart around me, and I would just sit there, and as long as I worked on my book that day, I felt like everything was OK. I don't think I even realized that's what I was doing. I didn't put it together until just now."
Victorino dedicated all of November to writing. When the book was released, Victorino says his band mates were surprised because he didn't tell them he was writing it.
"They were really respectful of it, but they were kind of shocked by it, too, because for that whole month, they're like, 'Where are the songs? How come you're not writing songs?' And then all of a sudden, there's a book coming out. But they understood that I just had to do it."
Victorino is 28 and has led a vivid life, as evidenced in Coma Therapy. Immortalizing some of those memories in print seems to have relieved him of the weight his life's experiences have had on him.
Still, touring the country with Strata has left Victorino feeling wary of people, and he can't shake the fear. "I used to think that people in bands who didn't talk to their fans were lazy. Now I realize it's because people are really strange. They're scary."
With even the smallest amount of fame or recognition comes a certain vulnerability. Musicians felt it when the murder of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott by a delusional fan rattled the entire metal community.
Victorino refers to that tragedy as well as the assassination of John Lennon in "it's a people business." By any measure, Strata, which had some success with its first release on Wind-Up Records, is considered a pretty small band. Even so, Victorino felt his privacy vandalized by fans who try to get too close.
"People expect so much. They just want so much from everybody," he says.
It's not just overzealous fans that have made him uncomfortable, but the unsavory characters he has met along the way.
The story "there are monsters everywhere" relates a particularly disturbing encounter he had at a club with a man with HIV who was hell-bent on getting into a bloody fight in an attempt to infect someone with the virus before the end of the night.
"Everyone asks me if that one's true, and it is. That was the day that I decided I'm just staying away from people," he says.
Victorino has received a strong reaction from people about "drug commercials on the television," which observes, "Salvation is now available/ in easy-to-swallow caplets," and he wonders "If doctors will ever start to prescribe/ ambition, goals, creativity/ paintbrushes, pens and blank journals/ lumps of soft clay/ anything/ before resorting to the pills."
"I wasn't trying to come off all Tom Cruise with, like, 'Oh, we don't need medication,' but I get a lot of comments from people on myspace, and I have to explain. I want to make sure people understand that I'm not against the idea of medicating, I'm just against the idea of having that be the first recourse, because it shouldn't be."
Many of the incidents in the book have a visceral harshness, but there are moments of sweetness, such as in "keep imagining," when he describes his feelings hearing Emmylou Harris sing Lennon's "Imagine" or meeting someone who loves and accepts him in "if you find one like her don't ever let her go ..." or being mystified by the elusive turtles that congregate under the bridge on Campbell Avenue in "my turtles."
Similar to the way Strata tends to operate, Victorino maintained creative control of his book and published it himself using a book-manufacturing company in Kansas. Coma Therapy is available for sale on myspace.com, Amazon.com and the Tower Records on Bascom Avenue in Campbell, and sales have been steady.
Victorino likes the personal aspect of handling everything himself. "The books are sitting in my living room. I check my email to see if anybody ordered any and I write their name on the envelope."
He leans over to dig into his dark green bag to reveal two padded mailing envelopes. The names are written in black Sharpie marker and hand-stamped with two actual stamps that total $1.60.
"These are this morning's orders. Just two, but still," he says happily.
'Coma Therapy' costs $14 plus shipping and handling. For information on ordering copies, see www.myspace.com/ericvictorino.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.